Consumer Society: Melting People Deconstruction of human identities | Sunday Observer

Consumer Society: Melting People Deconstruction of human identities

13 October, 2019

Living in the consumerist society, shopping has become a crucial ritual today and one of the defining activities of modern urban life which shapes and transforms the identity of every human. In any society artists have always been attentive to and intrigued by the consumer culture and the way it shapes society.

Consumer Society: Melting People by Chamila Gamage is one such audacious attempt which reflects the evolvement of the modern digital consumer society which is a social condition that we all experience right at this moment.

As Chamila explains, the basic idea of the sculpture project, ‘Consumer Society: Melting People’ is the representation of consumerism society. He admits that the concept of the emergence of consumerist in Europe with the Industrial Revolution has been widely discussed and debated in the field of visual arts locally as well as internationally, and eventually the subject has been incorporated into the context of globalization as a social context regionally and internationally.

“The concept of consumerism has evolved in the modern digital consumer society and has become a condition that we all experience at the present moment. Through this project my intention is to make a visible manifestation of human activities and feelings in the modern consumerist society and the psychological process that define human relationships which has become isolated entities in the face of intense competitiveness,” Chamila said.

Speaking about the execution process of ‘Consumer Society: Melting People’ project Chamila said he intends to complete the project in two phases. In the first phase he aims to sculpt four human figures with commonly used consumer goods and carve the human figures out of ice. The first phase of the project is to disintegrate four ice sculptures consisting of consumables in a public space and eventually leave only the consumables. The static human shape symbolizes contemporary society. The use of ice declares the uncertainty of the contemporary society. The consumerist society symbolically expresses itself through consumer goods that are visible in the interior of the human form.

“Once the four figures are carved in ice, it would seem perfect human figures and when the ice melts you would see a completely different texture of consumer goods with an abnormal silhouette of the human figure. The project aims at conveying the sense of human relationship, humanity and human being dissolving in the face of commercial society,” Chamila said.

The second phase of the project involves the process of capturing the melting human figures and bringing the rest of the consumables into the gallery as a video art piece.

Consumerism was deeply interwoven in the lifestyle of America and the concept of consumerism has been developed and introduced to the world by the American society in the 1950s which became the role model especially, among countries recovering from the devastating results of World War II. That was the beginning of the era of ‘individuality’ which has been defined by the products you purchase. People were heavily encouraged to express their individuality by purchasing products and a social ideology was created so that the more you purchase the more you express your individuality.

The concepts of consumerism and individualism served to loosen people’s strong political and social activism, and awareness and art movements such as abstract expressionism seemed detached from the everyday lives of the ordinary man who couldn’t relate to it in a society which promoted the lifestyle of consumerism. In this context many contemporary artists employing various visual and conceptual strategies started to question consumerism. Aiming to deconstruct this phenomenon from inside out, they explored various aspects of social and economic structures that construct our identities in the consumerist society. They used various mediums to express the idea of consumerism.

Having said that, melting human figure is not a new concept in the visual art scene where many international artists have used melting human figures to conceptualize the human’s destiny in the face of global warming, consumerism and capitalism.

Melting Men: by Brazilian artist Nele Azevedo is one such bold example where the artist carved a thousand miniature people out of ice and placed them on the steps at the central Gendarmen Market Square where they began to melt within about half an hour. This Melting Men installation was meant to spotlight the World Wildlife Fund’s warning that melting ice could possibly cause levels to rise more than 3.3ft by 2010. Likewise, Mark Coreth’s Ice Bear installation is also another example invented to look back on global climate change. Chamila refers these worldly renowned sources to study and improve his technical application of the project.

As an artist, ice is one of the main medium that Chamila used for his sculpture installations throughout his career. Ice can be identified as one of the most challenging mediums to work with, especially considering the climate factors in the country.

“Although ice is a very much common medium in other parts of the world when it comes to visual art, here in Sri Lanka none of the artists work with this medium mainly due to the difficulty in handling the medium. Although melting human figures are quite a common theme in other parts of the world, in Sri Lanka I’m the first artist to try out this sophisticated medium in visual art,” Chamila added.

Chamila Gamage was born in Beliatte and holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree of the University of Visual and Performing Arts, Colombo, and is a Painting and Sculpture Lecturer in the Cultural Centre of the University of Sri Jayawardenapura. Chamila is currently reading for his Master of Fine Arts at the University of Kelaniya and ‘Consumer Society: Melting People’ is his Postgraduate thesis.

“People are being turned into single units in the modern super consumer society. When only the physical aspect is maintained in a society the aesthetic is deteriorated. There are new social values and social relationships in a consumer society. The truth which gives meaning to life is hidden by disbelief,” he further added.